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Deplorable Racism: Officer Framed 46 Black People with No Evidence (video)

60 Minutes Rewind: Tulia, Texas – A Miscarriage of Justice Uncovered

Until the spotlight turned to Tulia, Texas, it was an unremarkable town. That changed when Tom Coleman, an undercover narcotics officer, arrested 46 people, nearly all Black, on cocaine dealing charges, resulting in a combined sentence of 750 years in prison. This remained until the Governor of Texas intervened, pardoning the accused after a judge labeled Coleman a liar who falsified evidence, a thief, and a racist.

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Who is Tom Coleman? Coleman, a former rodeo cowboy with a checkered law enforcement history and no experience in undercover narcotics, was hired by the local sheriff in 1998. Funded by the US Department of Justice’s $500 million initiative to combat rural drug problems, Coleman posed as a drug-seeking ex-convict, infiltrating Tulia’s small Black community. Over 18 months, he claimed to have purchased over half a pound of cocaine.

In a 1999 operation, 13% of Tulia’s Black adult population was arrested, paraded on local TV, and charged with selling cocaine to Coleman. The local newspaper praised the “cleanup,” but the arrests lacked any tangible evidence of drug dealing—no cocaine, paraphernalia, weapons, or money were found. The convictions relied solely on Coleman’s word.

Lives Shattered Among those arrested was 26-year-old Freddie Brookins Jr., a former high school star with no criminal record, sentenced to 20 years. Thirty-three-year-old Yul Brannon, a sales clerk, was charged with selling $160 worth of cocaine. Billy Wafer, a 45-year-old warehouse foreman, was accused of dealing 2.3 grams of cocaine. Wafer’s case was dismissed when he proved he was at work at the alleged time of the transaction.

Racial Targeting Allegations Coleman’s actions disproportionately affected Tulia’s Black community, leading to accusations of intentional racial targeting. Despite his use of racial slurs, Coleman denied being racist, claiming he used the language to blend in during investigations.

Uncovering the Truth Defendants like Yul Brannon and Tanya White had alibis that contradicted Coleman’s claims. White proved she was in Oklahoma City at the time Coleman alleged she sold him drugs. Despite mounting evidence of Coleman’s falsehoods, convictions continued, facilitated by nearly all-white juries.

Judicial Intervention and Aftermath A state judge ultimately condemned Coleman’s testimony as “riddled with perjury” and released the Tulia defendants. Joe Moore, Kizzy White, and Freddie Brookins Jr. regained their freedom after years of wrongful imprisonment. Coleman was indicted for perjury and investigated by the FBI for civil rights violations.

Legislative Response To prevent future miscarriages of justice, Texas is considering legislation mandating corroborative evidence in undercover drug stings. Coleman’s perjury trial is set for the fall, a grim reminder of the flawed justice system that failed Tulia’s Black community.

Reflection The Tulia case underscores the dangers of unchecked power in the war on drugs and the systemic biases that can lead to widespread injustice. As Coleman faces his own legal battles, the released defendants strive to rebuild lives unjustly disrupted by a deeply flawed system.

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